Confusing the essence with the tools

Suppose that we used the words “microscope science” instead of biology. Would that be an improvement? Or if we used the words “abacus science” instead of Mathematics. You probably would argue that the essence of mathematics is not the abacus. And that the essence of biology is not the microscope. In similar manner it is inappropriate to use the words “computer science”. Computer is a tool just like microscope and abacus. The essence of “computer science” is not about computers. It is a common mistake to confuse the essence of a subject with the tools that are used there.

Well then, what is the essence of “computer science”?

What label would you suggest? “Logicology”? :smiley:


I do not know the appropriate word, but I think that the essence of computer science is the study of techniques for controlling abstract complexity. Why do I say abstract? Because there are a lot of complex systems which are not abstract and engineers deal with them all the time. A nuclear plant for instance is a very complex system, so is a skyscraper. But these systems have to deal with constraints of the physical world. However, computer science along with mathematics deals with abstract concepts and components. These abstract (idealized) components are formed in our own mind. In this sense computer science is like mathematics a pure science.

What are these techniques for controlling abstract complexity?
One of them is “black box”. A black box is a system that given an input produces a given output. We do NOT care what’s in a black box. In fact the designer of the black box can change her implementation of what happens inside, without us having to worry about it. The only thing we care is that it behaves according to the contract that we made with the designer of the black box. From our point of view the black box is an “atom” that we can use to make new combinations (bigger black boxes). So the idea of a black box is to suppress detail (so we can think on a higher level), but also to separate the implementation from the usage (so that we can change the implementation without having to change the usage).

What other techniques are there?

Is a vinyl LP an abstraction of sound and music?

So is this an in-depth discussion of Genres?

I would guess that “Computer Science” is the study of computers and things related.

Since the Computer is the most complex tool mankind has created and since it has influenced more than all other tools combined I can see why devoting a “title” towards things related might help narrow the focus a tad, especially taking into account it was the first major “new field” since astrology was first defined.

After all wouldn’t a meteorologist study meteors and not weather if we were so literal in our vague titles of genres and sub categories?

And what is Bubble Gum Pop Punk anyway? That sounds like an oxymoron…

Not more than abacus is an abstraction of mathematics.

So, would you say that mathematics is the study of abacus and things related?

This question about the essence of “computer science” is not just a naming game. It is a very serious question about the fundamentals of a new kind of science. For Egyptians and early Greeks geometry was a about measuring land. However later Greeks (especially Euclides) saw that there was more to it than that. And so the abstract mathematics was born (and with it the modern science). Analogously today we think that “computer science” is about programming computers. But that is naive thinking. There is much deeper things hiding below the surface, and we need a modern Euclides to point what these deeper truths are.

Modern CS is not equal to CS when CS was named. CS used to be a specific specialization in engineering. Now it is a trade. You used to learn about the science behind computing systems, both mechanical and electronic. You learned the “how” and “why” they worked and how to design them. Today you only learn how to use them. Very sad.

So yes it is misnamed today.

Just as a record is a series of physical instructions to a vibrating needle for the purposes of reproducing sound, a computer is nothing more than an (admittedly extremely complex) series of physical instructions (1s and 0s) to the “vibrating needle” that is the various logical hardware components on the logic board (and all its expanded attachments, such as video cards and sound cards). I don’t see the process as abstracted at all. It is a programmed, electrical sequence of actions which produce a precise (though not always desired) result which is in turn manifested physically in the form of light, sound, and even can produce non-digital objects on a wide scale; everything from ink infused paper to giant steel components via robotic machines. But even if the end product is not an object you can remove from the computer (and its peripheral components), it is still very much a physical object.

I think comparing computers to mathematics is unfair, because the latter is a language and the former is a machine. Mathematical language can be used to describe arguably everything in the universe, including what makes a computer work.

Computer science does indeed extend beyond the realm of the study of the machines and the theories behind those machines, which is where it gets a little fuzzy, and here you have a good point. Biology isn’t the study of microscopes, though it certainly can use microscopes to examine biology. Computer scientists use computers to study data. If you view a computer as simply being an information machine (using the scientific sense of the word information), then computer science could be viewed as the manipulation and application of information or data.

Computers have enabled us to delve more deeply into data than ever before. It’s the information that causes us to study them. Where that information goes from there, in my opinion, leaves the realm of computer science, just as the study of medications departs from the fundamental study of chemistry. The actual study of computers as machines, however, should be separated from that, just as nobody would call the study of optics, or electron microscope design, a branch of biology.

I think someone once attempted to coin the word datalogy to the umbrella science of computers, and I like that one.

Computer Science is more hardware.

Mathematics is more software.

In the end you usually still need a few bug fixes before the next release.


The big problem is for the need to pigeonhole every single thing and document every single burp and wheeze in the cosmos in order for people to feel a sense of “order”.

When the truth is plainly seen.

The more you know the more you realize the less you truly know.

Needing a trendy moniker to define every single thing is the sign of a weak mind and a search for order in the chaos we call life.

Does everyone need to walk around with name tags in order to get through society?

I think it comes down to pride and prestige in the end.

Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a Bank EVERYONE is now a vice president?


That is all it boils down to.

Those that seek titles usually are the ones seeking answers because if they knew the answers they would not need a title to locate something.

In lamen terms.

Titles are for the ignorant.

If you have to name it in order to located it you have more studying to do. :slight_smile:

Why this need to know what the "essence of “Computer science” "is? Sounds like a lot of semantics to me.
Like Bruce Lee said: “It’s like a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory!”

Suppose that we are moved to 300 B.C. A guy called Euclides starts to talk about geometry in abstract sense. He says that the essence of geometry is not measuring tapes, protractors and compasses. Instead he starts with defining points, lines, triangles and so on in an abstract formal sense. He introduces axioms, definitions and theorems. Now you could argue that this gay Euclides is just doing a lot of semantics. You could even say that he is concentrating on the finger pointing at the moon, thus missing all that heavenly glory!

But fast forward the time 2300 years later, and you’ll notice that this guy Euclides started a revolution called mathematics and modern science, whose impact we all feel in our daily lives, but whose roots very few people understand.

P.S. There have, IMHO, only been two really powerful ideas in science. Although many people had glimpses of these ideas, there were perfected by two persons. The first idea is that of the axiomatic method, perfected by Euclides. And the second idea was the scientific observation using measuring instruments, perfected by Tycho Brahe. It was the combination of these two ideas that brought the scientific revolution.

When you look at a building do you discuss its architecture or do you focus on the methods the contractors use to paint the walls?

The term “Computer” is quite vague. It is as generic as the word tool.

If I say tool do you know out of the billions of tools now in use in the world which one I am refering to? DO you know who invented it or even what it is used for?

No. But you do know it is generically classified as a “Tool”

In the old days they had a program in school that taught things like basic woodworking and stuff. It was loosely referred to as “Shop”. It was not a class that taught you how to shop. It taught you nothing about retail purchasing. But anyone who walked into a high school and heard one of the kids was taking “shop” they knew an idea of what it was even though they did not know what tools they used, nor what exactly they did in class.

When you say mathematics you are using a very generic and vague term to loosely define something. It is like me saying “On earth there is a living organism.”

Geometry is “sub category” of Mathematics and yet it too is a generic term and other terms are then used to refine the classification down small enough so a person knows EXACTLY what fits in that category.

Some more generic terms

Human Being

Each are generalized categories and usually when you try to convey to someone what it is you are working on you decsribe your PROJECT not the TOOLS you use to make them to convey an idea of what it is you are doing because if you don’t then most people won’t have a clue.


Line Gauge is a common tool. Does it convey to the user as a good object to define printing?
If I showed you a line gauge you would think RULER. But it is not a Ruler its a Line Gauge!

To think if printing was never invented where we as a society would be now. The influence Printing has had on the world is just staggering.

Yet go outside and ask anyone to tell you what a Line Gauge is and I bet you get a blank stare.

Also as Jaysen said what was and what is now when it comes to “computer science” is completely different altogether.

I never went to college for Computers and I never got a degree related to computers.

But I did stay at a Holiday Inn… :slight_smile:

Bruce Lee had it right. If you see a heavenly moon why would you concentrate on your finger? Enjoy the moon in all its glory

not much gratuitous sex and violence in this thread, is there; tch! tch! :frowning:

Just a short note: as far as I know, in Germany, the field you call “CS” is called “Informatik” or information science. I think it is a bit different, but the term seems to me more apt for what they are doing.

Not yet. I am sure you will attempt to correct the situation soon though.

I know its beside your point, but renaming biology to “microscope science” would be wildly inaccurate, since biology encompasses activities and research methods that never gets close to ever touching a microscope…most ecologists for example never touch a microscope other than during their training years…

But hey - I digress. :slight_smile:

Not really. i think you “hit the nail on the head” (that one should go to the cliché thread). CS is the study of “computers” which has a focus that isn’t always clear.

In 1990, Alan Perlis wrote:

“I think that it’s extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing. When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun. Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines. I don’t think we are. I think we’re responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house. I hope the field of computer science never loses its sense of fun. Above all, I hope we don’t become missionaries. Don’t feel as if you’re Bible salesmen. The world has too many of those already. What you know about computing other people will learn. Don’t feel as if the key to successful computing is only in your hands. What’s in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, that you can make it more.”

Or you could go back to the early days and encompass it in “Natural Philosophy.”

The Wheel > All Others